Kafka’s work is renowned for its surrealism and nightmarish situations, which provoke feelings of senselessness, disorientation and helplessness. And if these are the emotions the Young Vic intends to convey through its new adaptation of The Trial by Nick Gill, they have done so admirably.
We meet Josef K. on the night of his 30th birthday, celebrating alone in a strip club, unaware that his world is about to change forever. The next morning he is accused of an unknown crime and learns his case will be judged by a remote, invisible court that is governed by an inaccessible authority. We never discover the nature of the crime but watch mesmerised as his life falls apart before our eyes.
The Young Vic has added their usual ingenious touch with the set design. Using a conveyor belt we are propelled through time and key events with an unnerving sense of purpose. We watch as Josef moves from initial outrage, through disbelief, towards desperation and helplessness, stopping momentarily at despair before finally giving in to submission.
Rory Kinnear does a superb job as Josef K and he manages to convey the sense of a man losing control of himself and everything around him. Nick Gill’s adaptation is particularly disturbing as we never get a clear idea of whether Josef is losing his mind or if the events are really taking place. Kinnear exploits this duplicity, he is both a man descending slowly into insanity and a victim of a totalitarian regime. The other characters help to increase this uncertainty – are they real or in Josef’s mind? Do the meetings take place or are they imagined? Sian Thomas is brilliant as Mrs Grace, the lawyer who has no interest in his case; and Hugh Skinner is excellent in his two roles as the colleague who talks constantly about Josef’s professional failings and Block, another accused man, who is tormented by the promise of help by Mrs Grace.
The sense of unease is difficult to shake off, even after one has left the theatre. The absence of a clear course of action to escape a labyrinthine situation is overwhelming and there is also a strange sense of familiarity at times (most will be able to relate to the scene at the information desk). Perhaps, this is both the strength and the weakness of the play.
The Trial is showing at The Young Vic in London until 22nd August 2015. For more information and tickets visit: http://www.youngvic.org/